Sir Barton, after winning the 1919 Kentucky Derby, on his way to racing's first Triple Crown.

Sir Barton, after winning the 1919 Kentucky Derby, on his way to racing's first Triple Crown.

Blood-Horse Publications


BackTrack: The Story of Sir Barton

A look back at the career of 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton.

The first of last week The Blood-Horse received a letter from Casper, Wyo. The writer asked for some information concerning the stud record of Sir Barton, which for the last three years has been standing at Dr. J.R. Hylton's ranch at Douglas, Wyo., county seat of Converse County on the North Platte River, and added: "Sir Barton is 21 years old but still very beautiful, and has the most satiny coat I ever touched. I saw him a week ago."

The letter was dated November 6. But Sir Barton had been dead almost a week when it was mailed. According to a telegram for Dr. Hylton to The Blood-Horse, the former champion died from an attack of acute intestinal colic on October 30. Dr. Hylton stated that the horse was very vigorous and in good flesh, and "looked considerably less than his age," but that he had had several attacks of colic in the last year. The telegram continued: "He had been at the Dr. J.R. Hylton ranch for the past four years and bred to some very fine mares. Several of his yearlings and 2-year-olds are in California and will start at Santa Anita. They are upstanding, fine-looking colts."

Thus ended an equine career which constitutes one of the spectacular chapters of American Turf history.
In the winter of 1915-16 the oldtime English trainer Vivian Gooch was a guest of his good friend John E. Madden at Hamburg Place, Lexington. He was not in the best of spirits, and at times appeared very much depressed. Mr. Madden held with those wise men who insist that the ownership of a young Thoroughbred is one of the best tonics a man can have, and he presented to Mr. Gooch a half-interest in a foal at that time unborn, the produce of a mating of Star Shoot and Lady Sterling, the dam of Sir Martin. Lady Sterling was 17 years old in the spring of 1916, and the previous year had been mated with Star Shoot, then near the height of a great career as a sire, for the first time.

The foal was born April 26, in a barn which has since become famous as the birthplace of five winners of the Kentucky Derby. It was a beautiful chestnut colt, and from the first the Wizard of Hamburg Place expected much from him. When the colt was still a weanling Mr. Madden purchased from Mr. Gooch the interest he had given. In the summer of 1918 the colt, named Sir Barton, began racing under the colors of J.E. Madden.

Sir Barton was marked as a high-class horse from his first day on the racetrack, but he finished his 2-year-old season a maiden, and with only one placing to his credit, but that was a second in the Futurity. His first start was in the Tremont Stakes at Aqueduct, won by Lord Brighton. "A good looker, raced green, and is promising," said the chart notes. At Saratoga he got away slowly in the Flash Stakes, was unplaced behind Billy Kelly. Two days later Billy Kelly won the United States Hotel Stakes, and Sir Barton again was unplaced.

After Billy Kelly had finished second in the Albany Handicap under the colors of W.F. Polson, H.G. Bedwell, who was then in the fifth of his six consecutive years as leading American trainer, purchased the son of Dick Welles for the account of Commander J.K.L. Ross. Billy Kelly then won the Sanford Memorial Stakes, and in this race Sir Barton was unplaced for the fourth consecutive time. After the Sanford Memorial Mr. Bedwell bought Sir Barton from Mr. Madden for $10,000 with a contingency of half the Futurity purse if he should win the big race at Belmont Park. Sir Barton's start under the Canadian owner's colors was in the Hopeful Stakes, and again he was well beaten, Eternal being the winner. In the Futurity, his sixth and last start of the year, with Earl Sande up, he showed for the first time that he had more than promise, and finished second to Dunboyne, which gave him 10 pounds. Purchase was third.

Sir Barton's first start at three was in the Kentucky Derby. He was coupled with Billy Kelly, and principally because of the latter's class the entry was a well-backed second choice. But over a sloppy track Sir Barton, with Johnny Loftus up, led every step of the way and won from Billy Kelly by five lengths. From there forward the little (15.21⁄2) son of Star Shoot was a great horse. He went on to sweep through the Preakness, the Withers, and the Belmont Stakes before he was beaten. In the Preakness he led all the way over a fast track, beat Eternal (the best 2-year-old of 1918) by four lengths. He again handled Eternal easily in the Withers. In the Belmont Stakes he won by five lengths from Sweep On and set a new American record of 2:172⁄5 for 13⁄8 miles.

In the Dwyer Stakes at Aqueduct Sir Barton attempted to give nine pounds to Purchase, himself a grand race horse, but Purchase beat him three lengths. Willie Knapp rode him in this race, and, according to trainer Bedwell, it was the first time a whip had ever been used on the colt. The trainer blames this fact for the defeat of the little horse which had won four of the classics of the American Turf. After the race, according to the trainer, it was found that the whip had cut him on the flank and on the scrotum.

Sir Barton did not race at Saratoga that year, but was put aside until the fall season began in Maryland. After finishing second to Billy Kelly in an allowance race he took up 132 pounds and outran Billy Kelly and others to win the first running of the Potomac Handicap. His next start was in an allowance race at Havre de Grace in which he finished second to The Porter. Cudgel and Exterminator, both older than Sir Barton, beat him in the Havre de Grace Handicap in new track record time of 1:50 for 11⁄8 miles. In the Maryland Handicap, 11⁄4 miles, for 3-year-olds, he turned in a great race, taking up 133 pounds, beating Mad Hatter (106), Audacious (118), and others in 2:022⁄5. Only Sarazen, with 126 pounds, has equaled his time in the Maryland Handicap. In the Pimlico Autumm Handicap, under 132 pounds, he was third to Mad Hatter (111) and Bridesman (107), on a slow track in which he was forced to race in the worst going all the way. But he came back to score easy victories in the Pimlico Fall Serial Weight-For-Age Races, No. 2 and No. 3.

At the end of his 3-year-old season, Sir Barton was recognized the best horse of his year, and he was the leading money winner with a total of $88,250.

At 4, in 1920, Sir Barton despite extremely high weights and occasional defeats, remained a great horse. He was first unplaced to Billy Kelly in an overnight race, then won the Climax Handicap under 133 pounds at Havre de Grace. Under 132 pounds he was unplaced to Crystal Ford (100) in the Philadelphia Handicap. Then, with Earl Sande in the saddle each time, he won four consecutive handicaps, the Rennert, Saratoga, Dominion, and Merchants' and Citizens'. His victory in the Saratoga Handicap is a classic of racing. He took up 129 pounds, top weight, won easily in 2:014⁄5, a track record which Man o' War equaled a few weeks later, but which has never been beaten. Behind him were Exterminator (126), Wildair (115), The Porter (124), and Mad Hatter (118), each of which in turn had run at him only to be beaten back. In the Dominion he carried 134 pounds to victory. In the Merchants' and Citizens', under 133 pounds, he set a new American track record 1:553⁄4 for 13⁄16 miles.
But Sir Barton's star, bright as it was, had been dimmed by the greater luster of the year's 3-year-old sensation, Man o' War. Abe Orpen offered a purse of $80,000 for a match between the two at Kenilworth Park, Windsor, Canada, and the two great horses met there in October. It was one of the most notable spectacles of the American Turf, but the race itself was a farce. Sir Barton obviously not himself, was under the whip in the first quarter-mile, and never showed a flash of his true class, while the once beaten son of Fair Play galloped along in front, to a new track record of 2:03 for the 10 furlongs.

Many horsemen and Turf writers thought, and still think, that Sir Barton was not in condition for this race with the champion of Glen Riddle. They believed he had been sore for weeks before the race and was still sore when the match came off. But trainer Bedwell holds that the track at Kenilworth Park was so hard that it was impossible for a horse with tender feet to perform well over it. In a long-distance telephone conversation with the writer last Sunday, Mr. Bedwell stated that the first time he breezed Sir Barton over the Kenilworth course he pinned his ears back, refused to take kindly to his work. Mr. Bedwell said that he warned Commander Ross the horse would not do well over that sort of track. Sir Barton, the trainer said, always had very poor feet, worse than most of the get of Star Shoot, which were generally afflicted with that trouble. His soles were so thin that he had to be shod with a layer of felt above the plate at all times. And to make matters worse, he was a horse which required much work to keep him in condition.

The match with Man o' War signalized the end of Sir Barton as a champion. He started three times more that fall, ran well, but not like Sir Barton. He was third in the Laurel Stakes and Pimlico Serial Weight-For-Age Race No. 2, but Mad Hatter was now able to beat him at level weights. In Serial No. 3 he managed to catch Mad Hatter in the closing strides, but was second to Billy Kelly. There his racing career ended. In three seasons he had started 31 times, won 13 races, finished second six times, third five times, unplaced seven times, and earned $116,857.

Trainer Bedwell had Sir Barton well along toward the races in the spring of his 5-year-old year, and apparently intended to start him during the Maryland spring season. But suddenly, about the middle of April, Mr. Bedwell was replaced as trainer by Henry McDaniel. Presumably because of the horse's tender feet Mr. McDaniel decided against racing him again. He was bred to a few mares in 1921, and in August of that year it was announced that Commander Ross had sold Sir Barton to John E. Madden and Montfort Jones, but apparently Mr. Madden's connection with the sale was in the role of an agent for Montfort and B.B. Jones. Sir Barton went to Audley Farm in Berryville, Va., owned by the Jones brothers and remained there until he was "farmed out" in Kentucky several years later. He never stood at Hamburg Place. The price paid for him was not stated at the time, but The Blood-Horse is informed that it was $75,000.

Sir Barton was advertised to stand at Audley in the spring of 1922 at a fee of $500 with no return. For the next three seasons he stood at $1,000 with no return. After that Audley Farm ceased to advertise him, and though his get won more than $100,000 for three consecutive years (1928-30), the tradition was now being fixed in the minds of breeders that no son of Star Shoot could be a success as a sire. Sir Barton gradually was accepted as a failure, and about four years ago was turned over to the Remount Division of the United States Army, which placed him at Dr. Hylton's ranch in Wyoming. However, he was not altogether a failure. His first get raced in 1924, and in the 13 years ending with 1936 they won 848 races and earned a total of more than $800,000. The only year in which he was among the 20 leading sires was 1929, when he was 20th.

Stakes winners sired by Sir Barton were Clear Sky, Easter Stockings, Chancellor, Nellie Custis, Trey, and Martin Barton. The best among these were the mares Easter Stockings, winner of $91,408, and Nellie Custis, whose earnings totaled $43,040.

Sixteen foals by Sir Barton were registered in 1934, and 10 in 1935, but very few of his offspring foaled since he entered the Remount Service have come into racing.